|Tyga and King Trell. Photo: HypeBeast|
Let’s get something straight: Underground and/or conscious hip hop is not where it’s at. Sure it might show some kind of intellectual depth to listen to a beat-driven genre for its lyrics, but at the end of the day the thing that’ll keep you coming back is the music. Commercial rap is the jam. I’ve been listening to it since the day I turned 12 with the glee of a drunk girl at her birthday party: ‘OH MY GOD IT’S MY SONG!!! IT’S MY SONGGGG!!!!!’ So when I got the chance to sit in on one of Tyga’s studio sessions and watch him record his new album, I very casually said yes, then spontaneously combusted. The location was Paramount studio, which boasts Bruno Mars, Pink, Olivia Newton John and Dr Dre among its clients. The time was 9:00pm. My host was Jess Jackson, Tyga’s full time producer, and he’d just received good news.
“I just got a phone call from Rihanna’s people,” he says as I walk in the door. “We sent her over a track last night and asked if she wanted to sing the hook on it for Tyga’s album. They played it for her and she said she doesn’t want to sing the hook. She wants it for her own album.”
He plays me a song that he spent hours achieving that perfect dissonant piano sound, and that should be the first single off Tyga’s upcoming album. Its hook is four words long and will become as quotable as a Kanye lyric: “All my sh*t dope.”
Jackson’s studio assistant sits in the corner of the room, getting a Japanese carp tattoo from an artist who Tyga keeps on a $1500 per day retainer.
Tyga arrives an hour later. He cuts a slender figure, standing about 5’10” and weighing no more than 60 kgs. His cap and hoody are from his own line Last Kings (inspired by pharaohs and ancient Egyptian art), his jeans are waxed black and his shoes are Yeezys. Style is a key component to the Tyga world – it’s said his boys are required to look the part when they accompany him around the globe; all wear at least one piece from the Last Kings collection.
Entourage-esque cliques do exist, and Tyga’s are with him around the clock. There’s Trell, a tall, skinny black guy with expensive taste in watches; John, a big, baby-faced white guy who manages the tours; and two other childhood friends of the rapper whose biceps suggest they can handle business. None look older than 23 years of age.
It starts the same way every night. They listen to the previous day’s efforts, order food, read the streetwear blogs, check eBay listings for rare watches, and chat until Tyga is ready to work. In person he’s self-assured but introspective, enthusiastic but humble; a far cry from the cocky persona suggested by his radio hits. “He knows what sells to an audience,” says Jackson. What sells includes – but is not limited to – suicide doors, Rolex watches and money being thrown at strippers.
Another key to his success is his willingness to send out clean, radio-friendly versions of his songs, a rarity among rappers. “You’d be amazed by how many people come up to us and say, ‘I love Rack City Chick!'” says Jackson. (The original swaps out chick for b*tch.)
Tyga’s first task is to do just that, on a huge, aggressive track that’ll do big business at late nights in clubs. “I’m a make it clean right now.” He’s looking for a word to replace n*gga. “Homie works, right?” Everyone agrees. He steps in the booth and has it wrapped in about six takes.
The lyric writing itself is far more involved. Tyga doesn’t write anything before he sits in the booth – every line is imagined, trialled, altered, discarded or kept, right there in the studio. It’s a laborious process: Record this. Listen back. One more time. He makes a mistake, clears his throat, starts from the top. One more time – start again from the top. You wanna punch? Keep that. That’s good.
Where others might feel pressure when things don’t immediately flow, Tyga is comfortable taking his time. It’s trial and error. Nobody complains; his crew is the most patient group of 20-something year old men you’ve ever witnessed.
At 2:00am the clique speeds off in a couple of blacked out Escalades to attend a party being thrown in a Hollywood nightclub by Marley Marl. Jackson takes a moment to unwind and plays back what they’ve just recorded. “This one’s going to be huge,” he says.
The group returns at 3:00am, this time with two more young guys in tow. One wears head to toe camouflage broken up by a green and red Gucci logo belt with a matching wallet that hangs off it on a leather rope. They give everyone daps, then sit on a couch in the corner to enjoy the music. A few minutes later a couple of Los Angeles-based models arrive. They enter silently, say hello to no one, then stand against the back wall glued to their phones. They don’t look up for the next two hours.
Justin Credible, a DJ from hip hop station Power 106 shows up at 3:30am to listen to the tracks. They play him four songs over and over again. The volume is beyond deafening. He pulls out his laptop and plays Tyga a beat he’s made that he wants him to feature on. Tyga listens and says he’ll jump on it, and that Justin should get J Cole on there, too.
I stand up to go at 5:00am. It’ll be light outside soon but Tyga’s just getting started. They won’t finish until 8:00am. Then there’s a worldwide tour to plan (with New Zealand shows included), a new house to organise (he just bought the spot next to Justin Bieber in a private estate in LA), and a baby being born this week (his first).
He’s a perfect example of the difference between those who make it and those who don’t – when we’re sleeping, he’s working. When we’re working, he’s working harder.
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